By Rick Assad
In what turned out to be a wild and wooly Pacific League football game, Burroughs High held off Muir 35-25 on Thursday night at Memorial Field.
A two-touchdown lead after the first quarter for the Bears turned into a four-point deficit early in the fourth period before adding a pair of touchdowns to cap the victory.
One game remains for Burroughs (6-2 and 2-1 in league) before the showdown with crosstown rival Burbank on October 28.
Chris Kulikov set the tone as the strong-armed junior quarterback threw for 198 yards while hitting 18 of 27 attempts and three scoring passes.
Junior transfer wide receiver Jake Scozzola had a game to remember with three touchdown catches that included a six-yarder with 1:53 left in the match that pushed the lead to 35-25.
“It was very intentional. I just transferred here. I’ve been waiting for this for a really long time,” said Scozzola, who had 94 yards on six receptions of his glee in playing. “I’ve been waiting for my time to get on the field and do my thing and it finally happened.”
As expected Scozzola was excited after scoring the game’s final points.
“I celebrated right after the touchdown. Just get it over with immediately but then right after that, it’s still a football game,” he said. “Anything can happen. There was a point in the game where they scored with less than a second left. There was a minute 30 left, anything can happen at any moment in a given time. It’s really important to stay calm and stay focused.”
On the march that started at the Muir 45-yard and saw the Bears use five plays, Kulikov’s 34-yard dart to senior wide receiver Dilan Webster (48 yards on four receptions) was the key play.
Kulikov also added an 11-yard run on first down that placed the ball at the three-yard line.
“I want a little more from my line. I didn’t get the pocket that I usually get. I was sacked a couple of times and we fought through the adversity. My line got it done when we really needed them,” said Kulikov, who contributed 22 yards on 10 rushes. “We practice for situations like this, so it was nothing new. We all stayed calm. We surrendered the lead and I made sure everyone was locked in. This is a battle. Once that happened, we flipped the switch. It was survival mode. Now this isn’t a walk through the park, we’re actually losing the game.”
The Bears found the end zone on their first possession as Kulikov marched his team 74 yards while using 12 plays and the capper was a 15-yard toss to Scozzola with 7:11 left in the initial frame for a 7-0 lead.
An errant snap on a punt from center on fourth and four from the Mustang 26-yard line set up Burroughs’ second tally.
After a penalty on Muir, the ball was placed at the two-yard line and in short order senior running back Marcus Manahan (19 yards on 18 carries) barreled into the end zone with 5:12 left for a 14-0 edge.
The Mustangs cut the advantage to 14-7 with 8:10 remaining in the first half as junior running back Isaiah Blades scored on a 16-yard run.
After Burroughs was forced to punt, the Bears scored to make it 21-7 on a one-yard sneak by Kulikov as 1:05 was left in the second quarter.
The five-play, 54-yard excursion was highlighted by a 39-yard pass from Kulikov to Scozzola on first down.
Muir (3-5 and 2-1 in league) rallied the troops and located the end zone with less than a second on the clock after marching from its 25 and using six plays as junior field general Brandon Valencia (eight of 24 for 160 yards and two interceptions) hit Blades with a 22-yard strike that drew the visitors within 21-13.
Junior wide receiver/defensive back Ryan Hernandez (14 yards on four catches) had both picks for the Bears.
“It’s a great team. It’s not an easy game at all. We didn’t think it would be an easy game at all and we knew it would be a tough battle,” Burroughs coach Jesse Craven said of Muir. “Our guys came through at the end.”
Craven knew this wasn’t going to be easy and it wasn’t.
“They’re a great team. We knew they were going to fight the whole way,” he said. “We got what we expected and I’m proud of our guys for battling through that. It was a much-needed league win. These games matter a lot.”
Burroughs punted four times before Kulikov unloaded a 22-yard scoring toss to Scozzola as 7:23 remained in the contest and pushed the Bears ahead 28-25.
The 62-yard, eight-play drive featured a 12-yard catch and a 17-yarder by junior wide receiver Ethan Hubbell (42 yards on four catches) and a 13-yard scamper from Kulikov, who was sacked three times by Muir’s furious pass rush.
The Mustangs punted twice and Valencia was intercepted once before hitting wide receiver Alexander Miller (68 yards on four receptions) with a 30-yard pass as 21 seconds remained in the third period that trimmed the lead to 21-19.
After the touchdown the Bears had a drive that saw Manahan lose five yards and Kulikov get sacked for a seven-yard loss.
Kulikov’s pass on third down and 27 fell incomplete and junior Brodie Kemp, who connected on five extra points, punted from his own 18-yard line.
Kaden Williams fielded the ball at midfield and raced into the end zone with 11:03 left as the Mustangs surged ahead 25-21.
The next time Burroughs takes the field will be October 21 versus Arcadia at Memorial Field.